*Prior warning: The following may contain an element of bias- I’m North Shore born and bred. But give some latitude- it’s been a pretty long time between drinks since we were any good. In fact the pub closed, re-opened and closed…
Whether or not their shorter turnaround ultimately condemned to their defeat to Canterbury or not, in that match last Saturday at Albany, North Harbour are showing they are the real deal in the 2017 edition of the Mitre 10 Cup.
It appears no coincidence that since Bryn Gatland ceded to the ten jersey last year there is some genuine synergy in that team on both attack and defence. And why? One reason is the way Gatland varies the play off almost every breakdown or set play. Watch him closely and notice he rarely does the same thing consecutively. He’ll suddenly pop a little kick through that puts the opposition in back pedal mode and gets all the backs and forwards pouring through after it. That’s natural synergy right there already.
Gatland’s dinky little sliding kicks into no man’s land between the first and second lines of defence don’t always come off, but the result is it keeps the opponents confused and it chips away at their patterns and overall cohesion. And when the kicks do work properly, the Harbour backs have such noses for a try that it’s very hard to deny them (and that’s not forgetting their impressive and pacy loose trio to hoover up attacking loose ball).
But as with most ups there’s always a down. Extremely promising and a breath of fresh air though he is, Gatty would need to dramatically cut down his error rate and improve his overall performance by around thirty percent to be anywhere within a sniff of becoming an AB.
For instance, in one dire four-five minute stanza on defence in the first half he missed touch badly by metres, not centimetres, three times from inside the 22- and trust me, he was aiming for the safety of the touchline because they were scrambling on defence. And the third was from a penalty- sacrilege really.
Mightily impressive so far has been the openside flanker, Murphy Taramai. The legendary rugby league coach Jack Gibson might have said of him: ‘He’s smarter than your average kitchen appliance’. Jeff Wilson was right when he spoke about how Taramai was very perceptive at knowing when and at which angle to go in to gain a turnover.
Not quite so brilliant was when Wilson referred to Dominic Bird as ‘Dominque’. Good grief Goldie, I’m sure the Canterbury lock will be intrigued at being referred to as a French femme.
And kudos to the Cantabs for coming out the way hey did after halftime and making Harbour pay dearly for going off the boil. Even a few minutes lapse in concentration against a team as powerful as the Red and Blacks can be nigh on fatal. Their complete pummelling by Wellington was one of those unexplainable days that sometimes happens in sport (as even the most parochial of Capital-ites would grudgingly acknowledge).
And how about the Steve Smith lookalike-how unfortunate- the Canterbury halfback Mitch Drummond? Now there is a star on the rise.